So close, so unreachable

A banal message received from a friend, about meeting for dinner:

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The tricky trip is Cambridge-Hamilton East, NZ, 20 km.

Cambridge is a small town (20,000 residents), located near Hamilton, 150,000, the regional hub where you can find a diversity of jobs as well as the main hospital, universities, a museum, theaters or shopping centers. The connection between the two towns is obvious, for work, education, shopping, dining out, you name it. Yet, the bus service runs only 7 times per day, on week days, and the time table is obviously built for school kids. On week-ends, there is only 3 trips Cambridge-Hamilton, 4 trips back.

So if you’ve missed your 7.35 bus, you will be there around 10. And if you want to leave Hamilton after 5.15 pm, well you can’t (this is for the week days, on week-ends it’s 4.15).

Without a car, you will have to beg for a ride, or miss opportunities. I doubt you can even study in Hamilton whilst living in Cambridge, given the early last departures (not to mention the loss of social life). You need a car, and if you can’t drive or can’t afford it you miss out. That is called severance, or barrier effect, or exclusion.

Imagine an efficient public transport link, the kind that would be a real alternative. Running from early in the morning to late in the night, allowing you to get where you need to and come back, and doing it with a satisfying travel time. Imagine a service that is actually more efficient than driving, and that is therefore chosen. Less single-occupancy vehicles on the road, less congestion, less wasted time, less spending on new roads, less spending for the users, less crashes, less deaths and injuries, less severance, more opportunities to access whatever you need or want to access, more participation in the society, better inclusion, better outcomes for all.

This is not an utopian vision. This is what towns around the world do, because it works for the people and for the local and national economies.

The ocean? You sure?

So in theory, you go down St Mary Street, in Auckland, facing the ocean. And at the bottom, you are really near the ocean, and also near the super active Winyard quarter. But, between you and the ocean, flows a mighty highway. And so you arrive at the bottom, and you are welcomed by a sound barrier and an information panel saying Discover Auckland’s Original Foreshore!

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The discovery is quite virtual, to be true. It shows lovely pictures of a past when the said foreshore was used by the locals for walking, sunbathing, navigating or swimming.

I couldn’t help imagine what the coast could look like, today, in the absence of the highway. A coastal promenade immediately came to mind, with active cafes and shops, and in the background some right density living and offices, with public spaces and walkable environments that encourage the access to the promenade. People would probably speak of how great it is to be living in such a pleasant neighborhood and yet be able to be in the CBD in 10 minutes by bicycle. New Plymouth did a great job re-owning its coast, and the success is seen in all the mentions the path gets as the local tourist attraction, but also by the numbers of people enjoying it and the diversity of users.

Now imagine Auckland had that, and then someone suggested building a highway there, right at the foreshore. I don’t know about you, but I would see protests, if that someone was invested with power, or wondering about how on earth you could imagine killing the goose that lays golden eggs. The idea would seem quite extreme, right?

The thing is, the infrastructure has been inherited, and probably accepted as part of the status quo. Maybe even seen as necessary, for the city’s functioning?

Experiences around the world show however that it’s never too late to re-imagine our environments! And that “extreme” or even “crazy” solutions can actually work, and rather well (look at Paris closing its arterials along the Seine, or the general movement of cities planning to ban the car from their centers, totally unimaginable 20 years ago).

To be continued… Fill the blank with your thoughts!

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Imagine what we could do

Imagine if a little side street, in a bustling neighborhood, was indeed treated as… a little side street. It would allow cars to access and park, and provide them with the necessary space, but not more. And with the leftover space? Well we could for instance provide for those who live there, and who could do with a little public space? or with a little green? some urban furniture for kids maybe? or a cafe’s terrace? The environment could also be friendly and accessible for all those who walk through the neighborhood (and maybe even encourage them to come more often, spend more time there, or visit the shops…). These nasty road signs could be gone too, and a continuous sidewalk would replace the existing 18 m (!) crossing.

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Pink strikes back, and leaves all that room to your imagination!

 

Speed vs humans

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The evidence is over-whelming: speed kills. All residential areas, everywhere, should have max speed limit 30Kph/20Mph or less. No excuses. – Gil Penalosa

And lower speeds also allow people to cross the street and interact more easily, and provide environments that feel safer for cycling (and again, accessing the school, shop, or friends’ house).

Think pink

Two lanes, and two parking lanes. “Free” parking is a whole subject on its own, but for now, let’s just look at these lanes. A-ma-zing-ly wide… 14.5m, says Google.

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So let me see… 2x 2m park lanes, + 2x 3.5m circulation = 11m, and a full 3.5m open to your imagination! Along the street it could be cycle lanes, some urban greening, pocket parks… And at the intersections, more space for pedestrians, allowing them to see better the oncoming traffig and reducing the distance to cross…